As many of you now know, my grandmother passed away last week after a long life. Kara was talking about it on Better Connecticut and I want to thank all of you who expressed your condolences, including on Facebook.
“Gram” died on Friday, hours after suffering a stroke, 7 weeks away from turning 93. Her four sons were by her side and she squeezed their hands in her final moments.
There was an official obituary for Eva M. House, but how do you cover in a few paragraphs, a life that spanned ten decades. It is remarkable all the things she witnessed in her lifetime. To put it into perspective, my grandmother was actually older than so many historic figures who died before her: President Kennedy, Elvis Presley, Pope John Paul II and others.
She would tell you her life was an ordinary one. Maybe so, but at the wake and funeral everyone had a story to tell about my grandmother, and we all had different experiences with her….many of them extraordinary.
My grandmother probably never thought she’d be mentioned in a blog…in fact she probably didn’t know what a blog was, but she saw quite a bit in her more than 92 years on earth.
Eva Mazalauski was born on May 24, 1916 in Exeter, New Hampshire to parents who had emigrated from Lithuania, which was then part of the Russian Empire. President Woodrow Wilson was up for re-election when my grandmother was born, and the debate of the day was whether the United States would enter World War I. President Wilson declared war on Germany a month before my grandmother’s first birthday.
Not every home had electricity when my grandmother was born, and some didn’t even have indoor plumbing. Phones were somewhat rare, and the Ford Model T was the best selling car. Text meant a book, there were no airports, and people died of polio. The Red Sox were coming off winning the 1915 World Series. What a different world it was.
In the 1930s she met and married my grandfather, Arnold House. They had four sons, Michael, Dennis (my father,) Brian and William, who came along roughly every five years. How’s that for family planning? This House family was raised in Haverhill, Massachusetts where both my grandparents worked in factories. Haverhill and nearby Lawrence were known for their mills, and shoes were the big product to come out of Haverhill. My grandmother worked in a shoe factory, much to the benefit of my mother, who was given many a pair from her mother-in-law.
Many of my memories of my grandmother revolve around her home at 3 Florence Avenue in Haverhill, at the top of a very steep hill…certainly steeper than anything I’d seen in my town. Every couple of months we took the trip up from Norwood and I clearly remember my parents navigating the incline and parking behind my grandparents’ gold Buick and my Uncle Bill coming to greet us. He was a teenager at the time, and used to take us for ice cream in the coolest convertible.
We always entered the house through a breezeway, where for some reason there was often Jello cooling. Much of our visits were spent in the backyard which overlooked part of the Merrimack River and the other houses on the side of the steep hill. There was a big garden that was my grandfather’s pride and joy and a large grapevine, flanked by stone wall that also served as a makeshift grave for a family cat. “Chizza” and the year he died were painted on one of the stones.
Inside my grandmother always served a good meal that usually included canned peas. In a strange way, they were always a treat because my mother only served frozen. They had a funky whitish silver Christmas tree that sat in front of a fake fireplace, that was handed down to me. Kara and I still have it.
My grandparents’ basement was a creepy place where my brother and I loved to explore. There was all sorts of stuff down there and it had a smell of old wood. From the upstairs you could see a Dairy Queen in the distance. There were three small bedrooms up there where a family of 6 lived..all sharing one bathroom.
After my grandfather died in 1986, Gram was on her own…really for the first time in her life. She did some traveling, to Germany, Vegas, and in her later years there were shorter trips, like to Foxwoods. In 1991 when I had to work Christmas Day and couldn’t come back home, Gram and my mother flew to Michigan and brought the holiday to me.
I actually lived with Gram for a while when I got my first television job in New Hampshire. The pay was awful so living for free in my father’s childhood bedroom was a great deal. My grandmother cooked for me, did my laundry, and on Thursdays we watched LA Law together….it was her favorite show. She ironed my shirts and one time, she handed me a short sleeved shirt that looked just like a long sleeved one I had tossed in the hamper. Turns out Gram had spilled bleach on a sleeve….and with her sewing machine and scissors salvaged the shirt!
Eventually I saved enough money for an apartment, and then my grandmother invited a college buddy of mine to move in to my old room…and he got the Gram treatment. Later, my cousin Scott would live there.
We did see more of Gram after she became a widow. When I moved back to New England she mentioned had never been on the “T,” the MBTA, and was somewhat concerned about going on a subway. I told her it was no big deal and took for a trip on the Green Line when she was in town visiting my mother. Sure enough in a very rare occurrence, the train had some sort of problem and we had to walk a distance and grab a cab. That was also my grandmother’s last experience on the “T.”
About 10-12 years ago, I put my television skills to work and interviewed my grandmother on camera about her life. Sadly, the tape is in a box of stuff somewhere in my attic, and I hope I can find it.
My grandmother left behind 11 grandchildren ranging in age from 29 to 50, my cousins: Lisa, Diana, Scott, Brian, Jeff, Debbie, Mike, Shelly, Laurie, and my brother Chris and me. For the most part, Gram also considered my second cousins, her grandnephew Steve and grandniece Valerie , her other two grandchildren. Because of the various ages, backgrounds and locations the memories my cousins, brother and I have of Gram may all be different. She also had 13 great grandchildren, including Helena, shown here with the only great-grandmother she will ever know.
Gram slowed down in the past decade. She sold the house on Florence Ave. in the late 1990s, and moved into an apartment in a complex for seniors where she lived until her death. After a few “incidents” we’ll call them, she gave up driving, but thanks to my uncle’s taxi company, she still managed to get around, see friends, play Bingo, and go out for lunch.
Getting old is hard. My grandmother used to tell me it was very difficult to outlive all her friends, sisters and face the reality of not being able to do what she used to.
When we got the call last week around midday that Gram had suffered a stroke, Kara and I made plans to visit her in the hospital the next day. …after her scheduled CAT scan. That of course never happened…..she went quickly, and died while I was anchoring the 6PM news.
In many ways it was a blessing, and my grandmother went the way she wanted to, although I do wish we could have had the chance to say goodbye. There was no long suffering, like my grandfather who battled an aggressive cancer. There was no nursing home, no hospice, no pain.
Gram, you made your mark on our lives and we will miss you.